From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Smith, Vincent Augustine

(born: August 3, 1894  -  died: March 22, 1952) 

Father Vincent Smith was the first African American from Kentucky to become a Catholic priest. He was born and raised in Lebanon, KY, and was one of the many children of Pious and Mary Eliza Spalding Smith. His mother had been enslaved by the bishops and the Spalding family, including the founder of the Sisters of Charity Nazareth, Mother Catherine Spalding. Source: Subversive Habits: Black Catholic nuns in the long African American freedom struggle by Shannen Dee Williams.

Prior to becoming a priest, Vincent Smith served in the U.S. Army during WWI. It was after his return from France and his discharge from the Army that Smith decided to become a priest. With help from his former employer, Rev. Ferdinand Brossart, Smith inquired about enrolling at St. Joseph's Seminary in Baltimore, MD. He would be allowed to enroll, but with the understanding that he may not be ordained. The few African American priests from the school had been hard to place and there was hesitation in ordaining more. At the time, St. Joseph's Seminary was the only seminary open to African Americans who wanted to become priests. 

Vincent Smith decided against attending St. Joseph's Seminary, and he went to work in a steel mill in Gary, IN. He later enrolled in Sacred Heart College in Greenville, MS. The college opened in 1920 as a segregated institution for the education of African Americans on the path to becoming priests. In 1923, the college moved to Bay St. Louis, MS, and was renamed St. Augustine Seminary. Vincent Smith was one of the first four African American graduates in 1926, and all were members of the Divine Word. Vincent Smith was ordained a priest in 1934 by the Most Rev. R. O. Gerow, Bishop of Natchez, MS.

Smith's first mass was held in Lebanon, KY. The anticipated attendance was greater than the seating at the segregated African American Catholic Church, St. Monica. For this special occasion, Smith's first mass was held at the white church, St. Augustine. It was estimated that more than 2,000 persons of both races were in attendance. 

Father Vincent Smith would be assigned to serve at several different parishes before he returned to Kentucky in 1949. He entered the Abbey of Gethsemani in Bardstown, KY. Father Smith was later transferred to the Abbey of Genesee, a Trappist monastery in Piffard, NY, where he served as the novice master until his death in 1952. Father Vincent Smith is buried at the monastery.

Sources: Stephen Lega, "Black History: 'God's nobleman'," The Lebanon Enterprise, 02/20/2013, p.A5; God's men of color by Albert S. Foley; "Five Colored Seminarians receive minor orders," The True Voice, 12/30/1932, front page; Trevis R. Badeaux, "Saintly ties," The Sunday Advertiser (Lafayette, LA), Accent Section, 10/26/2003, p.1G; "Mt. Carmel Church on West Side, once used by Quakers, Baptists will become Shore's first Catholic Colored parish," Asbury Park Sunday Press, 04/04/1943, p.3.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Marion County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Nelson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Lebanon, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Bardstown, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Smith, Vincent Augustine,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed March 4, 2024, https://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/300004892.

Last modified: 2023-12-08 18:24:28